The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 2, 2013

Money can buy a lot, but not happiness

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Mothers are filled with all manner of wisdom about life, bon mots they are not shy about passing on.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. A watched pot never boils. Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. When God shuts a door, he opens a window. Tough times don’t last, tough people do. The early bird gets the worm. Do, or do not, there is no try.”

Oh, wait, that last one came from Yoda, not Mom. Regardless, throughout my life I have found all of the above to be true, at least to some degree.

Then there’s this truism to which I’ve always clung, “Money can’t buy happiness.”

Not true, say the folks at the Brookings Institution. They recently published a study that reports just the opposite. Brookings found people who live in rich nations are happier with their lives than those who reside in poor ones, and rich people within individual nations say they are happier than their poor countrymen.

One of the authors of the study, Justin Wolfers, told NBC the phrase “Money can’t buy happiness,” endures because it is a comfort to those of us who are not awash in cash.

In the Brookings poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 Americans, only one percent of those making more than $75,000 a year said they were “very dissatisfied” with their life.

Those who earn more than a half million a year all ranked their happiness at the highest level.

It makes sense. Rich people don’t have to worry about paying their bills, keeping a roof over their heads and putting food on the table. That would tend to make you more comfortable and secure, and thus, happier.

So how much money does one need to be happy, according to the experts? A study of 13 countries (not including the U.S.) conducted last year by Skandia International’s Wealth Sentiment Monitor, found that the average income people said they needed to feel happy is around $161,000. That’s an unhappy statistic, for most of us.

Besides security, money can buy many things — cars, houses, jewelry, the latest electronic gadgets and the like. It would be nice to be able to afford anything your little heart desired. That would seem to have the power to make one happy.

OK, I concede money can, indeed, buy happiness, or at least the trappings of such. But I maintain money alone will not make you happy.

I have heard many stories from those who grew up during the Depression in which they freely admit, “We were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor because everyone else was in the same boat. We may have been poor, but we were happy.”

Money will shield the rich from many things, but can not guarantee their happiness.

Money cannot buy you love. It can buy you companionship, but the law frowns on that sort of thing with the exception of several counties in Nevada. Rich people can feel as lonely and unloved as poor ones.

I knew a guy who won the lottery. He won millions. He had things coming out the wazoo. But despite his windfall he was isolated. In the end, he died alone. Winning the lottery was probably the worst day of his life.

Money cannot buy good health. Granted, having unlimited resources guarantees ready access to top-notch medical care, but life’s infirmities do not attack on the basis on income.

Money cannot buy self-esteem, though a shiny new pair of shoes or some crisp new clothes can make us feel better about ourselves, at least for a time.

Money cannot buy contentment, which I define as being happy with what we have, even if what we have is less than we would like. I said happy, not satisfied.

There’s nothing wrong with some good, old-fashioned ambition.

Contentment also enables us to roll with life’s punches, recognizing that bad things happen to the rich and powerful, just as they do to the rest of us. It isn’t a matter of what happens to you throughout your life, it’s how you deal with it.

Money cannot buy the satisfaction that comes from helping others, though great wealth brings great opportunity to do great things in the world.

I am always impressed by those with lots of money who are eager to share their fortunes with the less fortunate. But even the much-less affluent can know the joy that comes from a giving heart.

Granted, I have never had to live in crushing poverty, nor in the splendor begat by fabulous wealth, so my perspective is skewed somewhat toward the middle.

With all due respect to the Brookings people, I do not believe money can buy happiness. Wealth can pave the way to a happier life, to be sure, but it brings with it no inherent guarantee of joy.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at